Westmill Solar

What they do

Westmill Solar Co-operative has established the largest community owned solar park in the UK, a 4.8GWh installation located on the Oxfordshire/Wiltshire border and spread across 30 acres.

Community-owned renewable energy projects are not new, but Westmill solar is the first such solar park project. Community energy schemes are widespread in Europe, and in Germany 25% of all renewable energy is owned by community projects. A similar proportion is community owned in Denmark, and both countries have a larger share of renewable energy generation than in the UK. For example, in Denmark almost each town or village has its own community owned renewable energy project, including an 82 MW offshore wind farm that is cooperatively owned.

In this country, pioneer projects such as Westmill wind farm (located next to the solar park) have shown that the model is successful here too and creates numerous benefits for investors and communities. In the UK, most such schemes have mostly been wind farms. Westmill Solar has taken this model into a new technology by creating the country’s first, and the world’s largest, community-owned solar farm.The co-operative has over 1500 members who share a say in how the co-operative is run and benefit from a share of the project revenues. Surplus funds are donated to Westmill Sustainable Energy Trust (WESET), a local charity promoting eductaion about sustainable energy.

The solar park was installed in July 2011 and purchased by the co-operative in October 2012 following a community share offer for £5.8 million. The plant covers 30 acres and generates enough electricity to power 1,600 homes. That’s equivalent to every home in the nearby villages of Watchfield & Shrivenham.

The solar plant is located on Westmill farm, a 190 hectare mixed organic farm that is also the site of the community owned Westmill Wind Farm.

Performance and Plans

 

Westmill Solar is one of the most successful community energy projects in the UK. The directors are active in advising a wide range of other energy projects and were one of the founders of Community Energy England, an infrastructure body to support community energy enterprises.

The plant is continuing to perform ahead of initial forecasts. Ensuring that the equipment is properly monitored, maintained and connected to the grid is a crucial part of this. The Board continues to mitigate unexpected damage to (or breakdown of) the plant through a combination of appropriate insurance, guarantees, operational procedures and cash reserves.

During 2016 there were a number of developments towards this, notably the acquisition of Abakus AG group (who have managed the performance of the Westmill solar plant since it was built) by ENcome Energy Performance GmbH. A service and warranty arrangement has also been put in place for inverters (a critical component of the plant) with SMA Solar Technology AG for the period up to 2021 to replace the initial warranty that has expired.

Westmill's power purchase agreement with Good Energy was due for renewal in 2017, so chose to move the PPA from Good Energy to Coop Energy in August 2017 for 3 years.

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